Mont Morissette: riding up the local col

The Ottawa Valley is very flat. Across the river the Eardley Escarpment, the Gatineau Valley and the Lièvre River Valley provide a modicum of elevation and some cute hills.

But yeah this is flatland. And the hills we have are far away. This adds to the challenge but it makes them inaccessible and we end up thinking Fortune, Pink and Black’s count.

Every now and then I like to take a whole day to ride. And by that I mean sunrise to sunset (or as close as I dare).

This year I drew me a route up to Blue Sea and back to “conquer” Mont Morissette. I am not sure if Mont Morissette is the closest thing we have to an actual alpine climb, but I am going to proceed as if it is.

The climb up Mont Morissette is not the longest in the area. That honour belongs to the Paugan Demoralizer, also known as the Lac Dolan climb, which is almost 7km long, climbing 225 metres at an average gradient of 4 per cent.

But the Demoralizer is not a proper cycling climb. There’s no view at the top. No monument. No café. The road just keeps on going, down toward Poltimore.

Mont Morissette at least promises a pinnacle. Somewhere to stand and gaze upon the surroundings in silent satisfaction at your effort. An 18 metre observation tower in fact. And with the last kick of 1.3km averaging 11% for a total of 139 metres of elevation, you will like a pause by the time you get there. No, there’s no café. No running water. But there is a plaque in memory of one of the volunteers who helped put the park together.

My route goes up into the Vallée de la Gatineau via the Perkins route, in between the 307 and the 309. And it’s 300km door to door.

I wanted a loop and figured going up via Buckingham would be too much. Another option would be to go up the east shore of the Gatineau River via Cascades, cross over to the 307, then make your way up through de l’Eglise and Ruisseau. Eventually you have to get to Paugan.

Going up through Perkins does involve a fair bit of pavement and quite a bit of time on the 366. But it has good shoulders mostly better tarmac and less traffic than the 307, which is a total armpit.

I also did a bit of time on the 307 to get to St. Pierre de Wakefield which has a grocery store and a pizza place. It was too soon to stop when I got there.

If you want off the 307 sooner you can turn left on Chemin du Fort. I don’t because somewhere along there is a Rottweiler with boundary issues, the only dog that has ever pierced my skin. It might be dead or old and passive now but I won’t risk it. Plus it’s a lot longer and the route is already plenty long.

De l’Église leads you onto Ruisseau and eventually to Chemin Lac St. Germain. This is the least bushwhacky way up to Paugan. The last chunk of Chemin Lac St. Germain is gated but the cottage association is not bothered by self-propelled traffic. Please don’t do anything to change that.

Chemin Lac St. Germain is linked to Paugan via a private, gated road that cottagers pay a fee for. The fee gets them a key to the gates at either end. The road’s owner isn’t bothered about cyclists. Dirt bikes, ATVs and non-paying drivers would be a different story.

Unlike what you will have experienced on the gated stretch of Chemin Lac St. Germain, the D’Aoust road is mostly going down.

Enjoy it. You’ll be starting up Paugan soon enough. Paugan is grisly and not at all scenic. But reasonably well maintained. Paved up to Chemin de la nature then gravel. How loose, how washboard-y depends on the time of year and the fiscal fortune of the town of Denholm, one of Québec’s poorest municipalities.

Don’t climb Paugan like it’s your whole day

I have more good news. That longest climb in the area? You’ll be descending it. You will encounter the odd car on Paugan, so you can’t ride like you own the road.

After descending the Demoralizer you veer right through a short descent and a hefty bump to the Paugan dam. The dam has some of the niftiest scenery of the ride. Whether the spillway or the reservoir give yourself permission to take a photo break. Eastbound traffic has right of way crossing the spillway, FYI.

Down a sharp paved descent, you arrive at the outskirts of Low and Chemin Martindale. There’s a dépanneur a few hundred metres to your left, but the route continues with a right on Martindale. Part pavement, part gravel, Martindale features farmland and views overlooking valleys of same. It’s pretty. Rolling but not beastly. Which is good because you’re on it for about 17km.

It leads you to Chemin du Lac Sainte Marie for a short time. Then you veer off onto Chemin de la Chute and we get into rough and ready territory for quite a while. About 24km of up and down mostly loose gravel road. Not all that scenic. A lot of pines and pebbles until you hit Chemin du Poisson Blanc, just outside of Gracefield. Poisson Blanc is a major road (for this part of the world anyway). You will see some cars if you’re doing this in cottage season. Or fishing season.

Gracefield is not pretty or touristy but there are some amenities, including a tattoo studio. There’s a grocery store, a chip stand, a funeral home (it’s too soon into the ride IMHO) and (against type) an elegant chocolatier. I routed myself north on the Véloroute des draveurs because I had to see it for myself. A paved multi-use pathway some 95km north of Ottawa that puts many of the National Capital’s pathways to shame. You can also take Chemin de Blue Sea. (The southern stretches of the Véloroute are less impressive as you’ll see on the return leg).

Leave the Véloroute at Chemin Trav. Bouchette and head into the village of Blue Sea. There’s a depanneur on Chemin Blue Sea, about 500m south of Chemin Principale, the route you’ll be taking through the village.

Once you’re out of Blue Sea, you’ll be on Chemin Lac Long. Start psyching yourself up for Mont Morissette. You’ll be on it in 7km or so. The approach along Ch. Lac Long is unremarkable. But once you turn into the parking lot for the Parc Régional Mont Morisette, the fun begins.

The first few hundred metres are on gravel and pitch up past 11 or 12 per cent. Once the pavement hits — I reckon the last four or five hundred metres — it gets into 16 per cent or more. My head unit was reading 20 per cent at a certain point. The sort of gradient where you’re thinking hard about every turn of the pedals. From parking lot to peak is about 1.3km.

Have a celebratory walk up the observation tower. I left my bike at the bottom, unlocked. There was no one else around and even if there were, I would rate the likelihood of any of them being bike thieves as ‘remote’. Kind of like Mont Morissette itself.

I felt like the ride was pretty much over once I’d got to the top. And the ride’s elevation profile confirms this. There are no more spikes after Mont Morissette. Just a lot of little bumps, trending down. When first I loaded this route — much much earlier in the morning, I thought “I really do need glasses. It looks like Climb Pro is saying there are 33 climbs on this route.” In fact there were. A lot of them were very mild. Noticeable rises in pitch, but often only 500 metres long with inclines that never got beyond three or four per cent.

I had applied a software update to my Garmin Edge 1040 before doing this ride and it changed the way the unit detects climbs. Before it had three settings — show all climbs, show medium and large climbs (the default) and only large climbs. When I checked the unit after finishing the ride I saw that they’ve aligned the unit’s settings with your standard bike racing categories. Climbs go from ‘Uncategorized’ through Cats 4 to 1 and on to ‘Hors Catégorie’. Which makes sense. But the default is to recognize every climb.

Anything that’s longer than 500 metres, where the average gradient is greater than three per cent and where the gradient times the length is greater than 1500 counts as a climb. This is fine logic, but it does end up with some odd results. There were several stretches on Ch. Lac Long and Chemin Laprise, where it would not have occurred to me that I was climbing, that ‘counted’. The Climb Pro screen came up and marched me along a slight bump of yellow and green for a bit. But ‘The Walls’ — that’s the name of the two 15% + ramps on Ch. Lac St. Germain didn’t count as climbs. You definitely know you’re climbing there. I’ve had to walk them when I had the wrong tires and there was a fresh pour of rocks. But I would guess they’re overall too short. By contrast, the climb counter on RidewithGPS says there are only seven climbs on the whole route.

The Strava Global Heatmap doesn’t show a lot of cycling activity on my return stretch from Parc Mont Morissette. And I think I know why. It reads as ‘paved’ on RidewithGPS and on Strava, but it looks more like a Jackson Pollock spatter painting than a paved road. Year upon year of daubs of cold patch, stamped down by hand have left large stretches of this segment of the route very rough indeed. Flandrien cobbles and Cuban potholes are worse to be sure, but it was a bit of a buzzkill and had me wishing they’d just throw in the towel, and revert to gravel.

Once you get to Chemin Lac Cayamant things calm down a bit. There is a depanneur at the corner of Lac des Îsles and Lac Cayamant that is very well camouflaged. Around the site of an old, seemingly abandoned motel. There are signs pointing you to the entrance that literally say ‘Really, there’s a store here.’ I stopped in to get water and a snack. It hit me here that I was getting tired when I couldn’t get my wallet back in the valuables pocket of my jersey. The dep owner had to help me.

But I had 125km left to go, including 80km to Wakefield, the next practical fuel stop.

Those responsible for Ch. Lac Laprise and Lac au Cerises also belong to the coldpatch-the-distintigrating-pavement school of road maintenance, but have mercifully let the ‘to hell with it let’s go back to gravel’ people win at the town council meeting for some stretches. I don’t blame or judge any of them. These municipalities have zero money and long stretches of road to maintain. They do what they can with what they have for the most part. And I’m here for the adventure, so most of the time I don’t mind. But on that day, the time was 3pm. I’d been riding since 6:30am and I had a ways to go.

If you have less tolerance of rough roads than me, do the return stretch back down from Mont Morissette Park via Chemin Blue Sea to the 105. Then take the 105 back south as far south as you want — I would say to Kazabazua or Chemin Marks — it has cars, often pickups and small trucks hauling trailers — but likely won’t be too busy.

Myself I stuck it out down Ch. des Cerises until a zig zag via Gerry Labelle took me to Marks and onto the Véloroute des draveurs. This is not your Gracefield – Blue Sea Véloroute. Nope. This is what most of the Véloroute des draveurs is like. Flat, razor straight but with road surfaces that range from smooth stone dust to baby head Strade Bianche, to sand, ATV-sifted into drifts, to dual track dirt.

This stretch is usually fine. There were a number of trees down across the trail that were carry-overs, but underneath the surface was smooth enough with traction. I passed two bikepackers coming the other way who were keen to learn ‘how much longer’.

For me, it was about 9km longer, south to where the Véloroute hits the 301. One could detour into Kazabazua from here to get food, but it would be some extra kilometres and I had my heart set on Wakefield for my next fuel stop, so I kept going.

While I was tired, I was back in familiar territory. Lac Shea, Jingletown, Wiggin and Burrough are all sort of like old friends. Albeit old friends that can be kinda bitchy and cantakerous. It was Wiggin, on a stonking hot day in deer fly season, that punctured two tubes and convinced me to go tubeless, after all. Today it was fine. Best surface since Martindale. Even the sandy patch just north of the Wiggin’s homestead had been tamed.

One gel left with Wakefield beckoning

Things were looking up. Yes, the spattering of rain had come two hours earlier than forecast. Yes it was cooler than expected. But my kit was holding out. The bike was working perfectly, I had one more gel left and Wakefield was beckoning.

The rest of the route will be familiar to anyone who rode one or other of the iterations of Ride of the Dammed. Burrough meets Chemin Lac Pike (alas someone set the covered bridge on fire a few years back and it was replaced with your standard, West Québec wood plank model). Lac Pike ends at Fieldville. From there it’s a dog leg to Murray, another jink to MacDonald and then left onto Kallalla.

This is a splendid stretch — farmland and forests surrounding well-maintained municipal gravel roads. Those RotD organizers knew how to build a route. Kallalla meets Chemin du Lac Bernard, which brings you into Lascelles via des Érables, which takes you to Rupert. From Rupert, you take Shouldice into Wakefield, via MacLaren and Burnside. There are a few rollers, but the trend is downhill. And very much downhill when you get to Burnside, which includes an often hidden stop sign at the bottom of one of the hills near the entrance to Vorlages. As you get through the residential part of Burnside, the locals just use wretched pavement as a traffic calming measure. They have no need of stop signs.

Myself I rolled up to the Pipolinka Bakery at 5:06pm. Six minutes after they closed. This was a psychological low point for me, tempered only by the fact that I knew I was now only about 40 easy kilometres away from home. I had been diligently fuelling every hour to keep a little glycogen in the blood and it had been working. I was tired but I could still get my heart rate up when needed. My head had stayed clear and my morale was good. But I had consumed the last of the ‘food’ I’d brought 90 minutes earlier.

Here is where exercise brain takes hold. I had lots of other options. The ice cream place. The Wakefield General Store. I could have ordered something from one of several restaurants that were open. But that all seemed complicated, undesirable (Ice cream on a chilly afternoon with spitting rain? Catastrophe!) or involved several hundred metre of backtracking (Forwards ever! Backwards never!)

My logic went like this: “I’ve only got the Chelsea rail trail and Gatineau Park left. I have to climb up off the trail, over Scott Street and do a few lumps in Gatineau Park. I can do that in low-power mode.” I decided to ride on. In my defence, I checked with Garmin first. It estimated I had energy left for another 33km. I figured that was close enough. I had arm warmers and a gilet if I started getting really cold.

So I rode on. And indeed the bottom fell out of my power numbers. I had been aiming to stay in my Zone 2 as much as possible, but I found myself riding 30 or 40 watts lower than that, using every opportunity to coast. I am pretty sure I had something of a tailwind because I seemed to be able to manage a decent speed despite flagging energy.

Before I knew it I had done the 14km stretch of the rail trail (which is perfectly groomed and not in the least technical, but often quite well-used) and was heading to Old Chelsea via Scott Street. Then Notch, Chemin de la Mine and into the park on Trail 5. The distance was melting away and even the sharp little rises along the 5 didn’t bother me. I even managed to find some more watts to push up the very last Garmin-anointed hill (just before the Allumetières overpass).

As a bonus, I got to see some of the 10km runners burning along Colonel By as I limped home, relieved that I was still faster than them.

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